REVIEW for NETFLIX of Cromwell Productions'

Two Three-Part TV Specials

by Christopher Fulkerson

CF's Composition Desk

Of the first three-part special, about Western Philosophy, t
he high point, absolutely worth the few minutes it takes to see it, is a photographic image during the section about Soren Kierkegaard: a moving-picture trompe-l'oeil is created in which a bright white light shone against the face of a girl under a green light takes on the appearance of another face.   The particular double-image phenomenon known from the famous 18th-Century "secret images" of human profiles designed to be seen from the side view of, for example, a wine glass, can be seen here in very beautiful moving detail.    This is during Christine Battersby's commentary that Kierkegaard's philosophy is of "the self that exists only in relation to another."   A very beautiful "green-skinned" girl with an almost elvish light-being are seen "together as one,"one may certainly say "face to face," forming an image combining views redolent of Imannuel Kant (a "light being" that makes one think of Kant's "Starry firmament above") and Edgar Rice Burroughs "(the Green Girl, check out A PRINCESS OF MARS Chapter Five). The fact that such "double-aspect imaging" fits perfectly with Schopenhauer's philosophical "double aspect theory" is not mentioned.

That said, there are some out-and-out mistakes among the images chosen: for example, the German composer Richard Wagner appears, without reference to him, instead of Arthur Schopenhauer at the proper time; no image of Schopenhauer ever appears; who was that at the beginning of the Descartes section, Galileo, or somebody else? And what was that about? And how can mistakes like that occur?  

Someone named Malcolm Seymor is credited with having written the basic script, but obviously the experts are responding in either prepared, though seemingly more likely direct responses. Though always reasonably pertinent the commentary is sometimes off-the-shoulder: for example, philosophical remarks from a fellow with two rings in each ear and surnamed Ladyman makes us wonder whether we are getting a philosopher or a new comic book hero. The discussion of the philosophy cannot claim to be any better than succinct, since the careers of a huge number of individuals are discussed. But, if Jean-Paul Sartre appears, one wonders why Heidegger, his better, whom he in part set out to "popularize," does not. This is not always the story of philosophy told with clear references between the philosophers themselves, or from whom specifically they get their ideas.

Of the second three-part special, about Eastern Philosophy, I think it may be said that it is generally worthwhile, assuming you don't need an introduction to Christianity (which is certainly an Eastern religion if Judaism is), but the range of expertise of the "experts" varies more widely here than in the other series, especially during the discussion of Confucius. Was an expert with competent English really not available?

The discussion of Buddhism is completely wide of the mark, especially when it comes to its Tibetan practitioners: no mention is made of the difference between Hinayana and Mahayana; no mention is made of Tantra; and some oddball but extended reference, complete with stories and images, is made to somebody born a mere 1500 years ago who was also supposedly a Buddha but of whom I have never heard in 21 years of reading and Buddhist practice.   There seems to be some confusion about which door of the cab this unknown and unorthodox alleged Buddha entered into this world, but who cares? Since Buddhism isn't about anybody but the historical Buddha, that's obviously some crazy sect, but if you don't know Buddhism you'd never guess it.   So I say the representation of Buddhism is not up to speed.

In particular there is at least ONE GLARING MISTAKE when an entirely wrong person is shown during discussion of the Dalai Lama; the individual does not even remotely resemble the Dalai Lama, does not even look ethnically Tibetan, and those don't look like Tibetans around him.    Again, something is very wrong here. Somebody led Cromwell Productions down the Primrose Path, and not the Middle Way.

Also, one would think that the correct Biblical passage would be chosen on which to splatter blood for dramatic purposes; the blood is splattered in Beth-el, onto Genesis 35, instead of Moriah, as part of Genesis 22. Jacob was not Isaac, and in neither case was human blood spilt. Somebody is trying to get their ritual blood-splattering in when they don't merit it. I thought that practice went out with the Second Temple.


Posted Sunday, September 26, 2010. This review has been edited since being uploaded to Netflix.